Angel Mtui is patient. She knows success doesn’t come instantly, but rather is the result of hard work and planning. Two years into the launch of her own thrift shop, iMalaika, the young entrepreneur is biding her time, saving, and plotting her next steps. She has ideas for expansion and sees a future with more stores across the country and even outside its borders throughout the region in Africa. And while her focus is on securing her own livelihood and that of her son, Mtui is also keenly aware of the impact she has on others.
“I hope to inspire many girls to get into self-employment by turning their hobbies into investments. There are so few jobs, but if you take what you love and think of a way to make it a source of income, you’ll eventually become successful.”
Born in the lush plains of Arusha, the safari capital of Tanzania, Mtui studied procurement and supply in Dodoma College of Business Education before returning to Dar es Salaam to work in the family business managing a hardware store. Bringing some panache to the shelves of building supplies, with a keen eye for fashion, the 28-year-old was always dressed immaculately for work.
“I may not be into the latest fashion trends, but I take dressing up very seriously. I believe in looking good and presentable for every occasion.”
With lots of customers commenting on her style, Mtui started thinking seriously about getting into retail fashion. She brainstormed with a few friends and started buying clothes from acquaintances in the business, selling them at a small profit. In the beginning, she was able to pay the vendors after she had sold the clothes, which required less capital to get started.
“It was a matter of business trust. I was selling the clothes for them from my house, almost the same concept as a yard sale, pricing everything a little higher and saving the difference. I would hold a sale once per month and advertise on social media.”
“There are many opportunities out there, you just have to go for them. Female entrepreneurs often do better because we have good instincts. Results do not come immediately, but patience bears good fruits. Make wise savings and don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone to achieve your desires.”
The profits, together with her previous savings, finally reached a point where Mtui felt she was ready to make the leap and quit the hardware store to open her own thrift shop, selling clothes she has sourced from the Ilala, a large open market that supplies almost the entire city. With her parents no longer around, Mtui’s 12 siblings were happy to see their youngest sister being so independent and going after her dream. In 2013, her brother helped secure her shopfront in Kijitonyama where she pays rent annually. She started to make a profit after three months, but reinvests most of it back into the business, leaving only a few shillings for her own use.
“I wake up early every morning from Monday to Saturday and head to the market by 6 am. I pick out clothes that are in good condition from the thousands of vendors in the market and leave around 1 pm. It’s always a battle for quality items. The only days I don’t go are Sundays or when I have enough stock. At the store, I clean and iron the clothes and hang them for display. I’ve hired two employees to help me run the shop while I’m at the market,” she explains.
“iMalaika means angelic. It is the kind of reflection I hope comes out in my interactions and how my clients look and feel like after dealing with me,” she says with a beatific smile. “I advertise on these platforms but also give fashion advice to my followers who’ve been really supportive of me.”
Leaving paid employment and starting iMalaika on her own has been a liberating experience for the single mother-of-one. Going to the market so early almost every day is pretty tough, especially when she has to leave her young son, Ryan, in someone else’s care. But Mtui loves what she does.
“It’s not all a bed of roses, but I am doing well. I love seeing happy clients, showing them what I have and suggesting how they can coordinate the outfits for a perfect look. Like any other business, the store has brought many challenges and I operate in an industry that is already crowded. I have dressed many people and the outcome is good. But most importantly, I enjoy what I do and that, for me, is success.”
Part of Mtui’s appeal is what she represents for young women. Many of her social media followers reach out to her for advice on starting a business and she never hesitates to offer words of encouragement.
“There are many opportunities out there, you just have to go for them. Female entrepreneurs often do better because we have good instincts,” she says. “If you have an idea, don’t be afraid to act on it. I learned that in my journey. Results do not come immediately, but patience bears good fruits. Make wise savings and don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone to achieve your desires.”
With a name like Angel, perhaps Mtui is more blessed than most, but something tells us this young woman is mapping her own destiny one small and patient step at a time.